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David Ross Locke

David Ross Locke (also known by his pseudonym Petroleum V. Nasby) (September 20, 1833 – February 15, 1888) was an American journalist and early political commentator during and after the American Civil War.



Locke was born in Vestal, Broome County, New York[1], the son of Nathaniel Reed Locke and Hester Locke[2]. He was apprenticed at age 12 to the newspaper, the Democrat in Cortland County, New York. Following a seven-year apprenticeship, he tramped around until his next protracted stay being with the Pittsburgh Chronicle. Around 1855, Locke started, with others, the Plymouth, Ohio Herald. On March 20, 1856, became the editor of the Bucyrus Journal. Locke was in Bucyrus, when the Civil War broke out. During the war, he edited, and wrote for, the Toledo, Ohio newspaper the Toledo Blade, which he later purchased in 1867.

His work

Petroleum V. Nasby's "Dream of Perfect Bliss" (a "Post Orfis" appointment) by Thomas Nast

Locke's most famous works, the "Nasby Letters," were written in the character of, and over the signature of "Rev. Petroleum V(esuvius) Nasby," a Copperhead and Democrat. They have been described as "The Civil War written in sulphuric acid."

Locke's fictional alter ego, Nasby, loudly championed the cause of the Confederate States of America from Secession onward, but did little to actively help it. After being conscripted into the Union Army he deserted to the Confederates, joining the fictional "Pelican Brigade." However, he found life in the Confederate Army "tite nippin" and soon deserted again. By the end of the Civil War he was back in civilian life.

The Nasby Letters, although written in the semi-literate spelling used by other humorists of the time, were a sophisticated work of ironic fiction. They were consciously intended to rally support for the Union cause; "Nasby" himself was portrayed as a thoroughly detestable character—a supreme opportunist, bigoted, work-shy, often half-drunk, and willing to say or do anything to get a Postmaster's job. (Locke's own father had served as Postmaster of Virgil, New York.)[3] At the time the Letters were written, Postmasterships were political plums, offering a guaranteed federal salary for little or no real work. Until the glorious day when he received a "Post Orfis" from Andrew Johnson Nasby worked, when he worked, most frequently as a preacher. His favorite Biblical texts, unsurprisingly, were the ones that were used by Southern ministers to "prove" that slavery was ordained by the Bible.

Abraham Lincoln loved the Nasby Letters, and quoted them frequently. He is quoted as saying, "...I intend to tell him if he will communicate his talent to me, I will swap places with him!"[4]

After the Civil War, Nasby went on to comment on Reconstruction. He settled in several different places, most notably "Confedrit X Roads, wich is in the Stait of Kentucky", a fictional town full of idle, whisky-loving, scrounging ex-Confederates, and a few hard-working, decent folk, who by an amazing coincidence were all strong Republicans. He travelled frequently, sometimes not entirely voluntarily (Nasby's habit of borrowing money he never repaid, and running up tabs at the local saloon often made him unpopular) and continued to comment on the issues of the day.

Locke discontinued the Nasby Letters a few years before his death, since the times had changed and Nasby was no longer topical. While the semi-literate spelling in which they are written has often discouraged modern readers, it can also be seen as a point of characterizing "Nasby."

Several collections of the Letters came out in book form, some illustrated by Thomas Nast, who was a friend and political ally of Locke.

Works by Locke


This article incorporates text from an edition of the New International Encyclopedia that is in the public domain.
  1. ^ Harrison, Jerry (2000). The Next Book of the Lockes. Heritage Books. pp. 188. ISBN 9780788414572.  
  2. ^ Harrison, Jerry (2000). The Next Book of the Lockes. Heritage Books. pp. 92–3. ISBN 9780788414572.  
  3. ^ Harrison, John M. (1969). The Man who Made Nasby. University of North Carolina Press. p. 85.  
  4. ^ McClure, Alexander K. (1901). "Abe" Lincoln's Yarns and Stories. Henry Neil. p. 198.  

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